Employers For Childcare responds to consultation on achieving a better economy in Northern Ireland

Employers For Childcare has responded to the Department for the Economy’s consultation on the 10X Performance Management Framework, which will underpin the achievement of the Department’s overall 10X Vision, published in May 2021.

The Framework sets out proposed objectives that will allow planning work to move forward, alongside a set of ‘metrics’ to establish a baseline against which to monitor progress.

Childcare essential to achieving ambitious objectives

Overall, we welcomed the high-level objectives set out in the Framework. In particular, we appreciate the importance of creating opportunities for economic growth which are distributed across society for the benefit of everyone. We also noted that the Framework is a high level document, and could not include detail on the delivery plans that will be required to achieve the proposed objectives.

In responding to the consultation, we therefore took the opportunity to highlight the critical role of our childcare infrastructure in enabling parents with dependent children, particularly mothers, to participate and progress in the workforce, and to be key drivers in economic growth and innovation. We presented evidence demonstrating that this must be clearly recognised and integrated throughout delivery plans for the Framework. This should include supporting the achievement of significant Executive investment in the sector, an ambitious Early Learning and Childcare Strategy, and ensuring joined up working across the full range of Government Departments.

Out of the entire population of working age people in Northern Ireland who are in employment (817,000) just under 43% are parents with dependent children, many of whom are reliant on childcare. To ensure businesses and innovators can have the right people, with the right skills, at the right time, they rely on an affordable, accessible and flexible childcare infrastructure. Otherwise, they may be trying to secure – or retain – the skilled people they need, from just 57% of the workforce. Amidst the continuing absence of a Childcare Strategy, in the last year the percentage of women in Northern Ireland who are economically inactive due to ‘looking after family/home’ has increased.

If parents are unable to participate in the workforce, then the delivery of the ambitious 10X objectives is not just at risk, but is likely to be unachievable.

Measuring progress requires wider understanding of groups facing structural barriers to economic participation

Overall, we welcome the approach to establishing a baseline of measures against which progress can be charted and compared against a group of 16 other ‘small advanced economies’.

However, the proposed metrics require further segmentation to include groups who are particularly impacted by structural barriers to economic participation. At present, metrics – such as the rate of employment – are proposed to be segmented by gender, age, disability, geography and multiple deprivation measure. While these are important, further breakdowns are required to ensure actions and delivery plans are appropriately targeted, specifically:

  • Having dependent children
  • Age of dependent children
  • Being a lone parent.

There is clear and existing data (within the Ulster University Labour Market Intelligence Portal) which demonstrates wider levels of inequality in terms of economic inactivity when broken down by these measures. For example, 28% of females who have a child aged 1-4 are economically inactive, over 20 percentage points higher than the proportion of males who have a child aged 1-4 and are economically inactive (8%). Yet a straight comparison of male (24%) and female (30.2%) economic inactivity indicates a difference of less than 6 percentage points (Q2 2022). The economic inactivity rate for lone parents is even higher, at 39.7%. Similarly, while the Q2 2022 figures for the rate of employment are 73.2% for males and 68.2% for females, the rate drops to 56.7% for lone parents.

Without the breakdowns we have suggested, vital mechanisms for targeting actions and delivery plans could be missed.

Meaningful consultation critical in informing plans

While we welcomed the opportunity to engage with this consultation, we also expressed our disappointment at the two weeks allowed for consultation. The minimum amount of time for public consultations is 12 weeks, in accordance with best practice guidelines set out by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland. The Department published the 10x Economic Vision in May 2021 and should therefore have had time to plan for a lengthier consultation period on this important Framework.

As well as putting individuals and organisations under pressure when considering whether they can submit a response, this could be seen as indicative of the value attached to those responses, particularly from voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations. Going forward, we would urge the Department to give the full time to consultation processes.

Next steps

Following the closure of the consultation on 26 October, the following day (27 October) Economy Minister Gordon Lyons published the 10x Vision: Next Steps for Implementation, setting objectives that need to be achieved to deliver a 10x economy.

This response to the consultation included recognition that this work goes beyond the remit of just the Department for the Economy, and that there is an important role for early years. Childcare was highlighted as a particular issue. Although responsibility for childcare sits with other departments, the response commits to considering how the Department for the Economy can best work with other departments to ensure that enablers of economic activity are in place.

The response also notes that a number of additional metrics were suggested, and further analysis is required to explore these before potentially adding additional measures to Tier 2 metrics.

A wider call for expressions of interest to engage with the Framework will remain open until January 2023 and is available here.

We will maintain a close watching brief on this important framework, and associated delivery plans, as it develops.

Find out more

You can read the consultation documents setting out the 10X Performance Management Framework and proposed metrics on the Department for the Economy’s website.